Desmond-Fish Library Seeks Public Funds

May 20 referendum on school budget ballot

By Kevin E. Foley

The board of directors of the Desmond-Fish Library is asking property owners in the Garrison Union Free School District to approve a new addition to the tax levy to support library operations. The measure will appear on the ballot Tuesday, May 20, along with the Garrison Union Free School District budget, which requires annual approval.

The library initiative, which would create a fixed $75,000 annual allocation, is separate from the school budget and does not involve the school board. Garrison is not an incorporated entity so the school district taxing authority is the only existing governmental vehicle to collect the proposed new levy.

The Desmond-Fish Library

The Desmond-Fish Library

The decision by the Desmond-Fish trustees to pursue public funding was first made last fall at their annual meeting and was reported on on Oct. 29, 2013.

If approved, the referendum would create a tax rate of approximately $56.10 for households with an assessed value of $300,000 or 18.7 cents of $1,000 of assessed value.

The voting will take place at the Garrison School at 1100 Route 9D in Garrison with the poll open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Seeking public funding marks a transition for the Desmond-Fish Library. Founded in 1980, the library has operated and grown primarily through the use of an endowment and annual fundraising appeals. The annual budget currently is approximately $583,00 of which $300,000 derives from the endowment. Library trustees have determined that a third source of dependable funds is needed to protect programs and service an aging physical plant.

In a released statement, Hamilton Fish, president of the board of trustees, said, “Our board actively seeks diversified funding streams including grants and fundraising in order to bring special programs, books and services to our public. But we’ve grown in the last 34 years, the building has aged, things have gotten more expensive, and the board is tasked with securing sustainable funding. We recognize that we’re at the point where we need to ask the public to invest in the library to help maintain the institution and keep up with community demand for library services.”

Other board members in an interview with underscored the organization’s financial prudence and challenges as well as the educational and civic role of the library in the life of the community.

“Alice Desmond founded the library as what she called an acorn she wanted to grow to become an important ingredient in the community which she loved,” William Sadler said. “We think of ourselves as very good stewards of the endowment. We keep the draw to 5 percent a year in a three-year moving average.” Sadler also said studies have shown that increasing the drawdown on an endowment can erode the principal and the board wants to avoid that alternative to preserve the library’s future.

Sadler said both the Hudson Valley and the State Library Associations had described the Desmond-Fish as a “champion in fundraising.” He said many libraries don’t fundraise at all and rely solely on public funds. The library raised $283,000 last year mostly from an annual dinner and the Friends of the Library group along with some modest government support from the county and town as well as the popular summer used book sale.

The library's Program Room being readied for a sale.  Photo by A. Rooney

The library’s Program Room being readied for a sale.  Photo by Alison Rooney

Both Sadler and Trustee Jennifer Marrinan emphasized the board’s intent to maintain the level of endowment and fundraising contributions to the budget with the new revenue helping to maintain existing programs as well as assist in the creation of new programs. They said rising expenses were outpacing the library’s ability to keep up. “Donors have limits on what they can give,” said Marrinan.

Butterfield ballot recalled

The Desmond-Fish referendum recalls a similar and, at the time, controversial action in 2006 by the Butterfield Library in Cold Spring. The Butterfield Library sought a more ambitious town-wide approval for a tax that still generates $276,000 annually. In the aftermath of the successful vote, the town board initially refused payment but lost repeatedly in court when the library sued for the money.

As part of the town-wide taxation for Butterfield, Garrison residents already pay about $87 per $300,000 of assessed value as part of the Butterfield levy.

Philipstown residents outside the Garrison school district would not be taxed for the Desmond-Fish levy.

Both the Butterfield and the Desmond-Fish actions are permitted under a state education law enacted in 1995 and signed by then Gov. George Pataki, a Garrison resident.

Sadler said the decision to pursue $75,000 from only Garrison residents arose from the board’s long range strategic plan, a calculation of likely financial need and library association guidelines that recommend seeking funding from the primary users. “It made sense to us to call upon the community we serve,” he said.

“We work hard to keep up with community demand for library services. We are open every day during the school year and six days a week in summer,” said Jen McCreery, library director, in the library’s public statement. “Programs range from pre-school age to older adults and include free access to computers and training in the latest technology, job-search help, DVDs and digital materials on demand,” she added.

Marrinan and Sadler stressed that the library plays an important public role for Garrison by sponsoring or hosting public lectures, presentations and meetings of all kinds, thereby promoting a sense of place.

They also pointed to the “project code spring” which introduces children to computer code writing and a proposed teen night with movies and popcorn as examples of community engagement and added educational benefit.

Sadler said the board had also undertaken energy cost-saving moves, including better insulation and new windows to reduce building expenses. But he said the now older building would require more renovation and upkeep going forward.

Additional information is available at

9 thoughts on “Desmond-Fish Library Seeks Public Funds

  1. I was all in favor of the tax levy for the library until I read that Garrison residents already pay about $87 per $300,000 of assessed value as part of the Butterfield levy. Yet Philipstown residents outside the Garrison School District would not be taxed for the Desmond-Fish levy. And that this decision to pursue $75,000 from only Garrison residents arose from the board’s long-range strategic plan, a calculation of likely financial need and library association guidelines that recommend seeking funding from the primary users. If “it made sense to us to call upon the community we serve,” as Mr. Sadler says, then it makes sense to me to pay for Desmond-Fish when I am able to stop paying for Butterfield, which is not part of my community. Until then I will be voting against on May 20.

  2. The Butterfield tax is in place and that is really not subject to change. Garrison residents share the benefit: Butterfield is about as far away as Foodtown.

    The question is whether we are going to support DFL. It is heavily used by so many members of our community: high school students (tutoring sessions or research), streams of children with their parents, people doing resumes or uploading pictures or just surfing, people checking out DVDs (before the next big snow storm) or powering their devices and warming up (after the last one knocked out the power), browsers perusing the magazines and newspapers and, as you would expect — people checking out books.

    DFL is also, importantly, a community gathering place. I have heard people say, more than once, I really love this library.

    In response, people in Garrison have been generous to DFL both in the ways mentioned in your story and in others. We need to keep on.

  3. I am a resident of Cold Spring, so I don’t get to vote on the proposed levy. So instead today I made a donation to the Friends of Desmond Fish Library. I’ve enjoyed more than my fair share of the library’s services. If you haven’t visited lately please do. It is open to everyone in the community.

    Garrison residents are lucky to have such a jewel nearby. I hope they pass the levy.

  4. I will be voting no on a new tax upon Garrison residents. While I feel the library is a good resource, it is not worth another annually exponential increase on a community that is already paying exorbitant school taxes.

    The library needs to adjust to a declining economy and usage and realize they are lucky to have plush assets and manage them accordingly.

  5. The library provides many important services and programs to the community. The board has also done an excellent job of fundraising. The small increase in taxes of $56 per $300,000 assessed value certainly seems worth it to me. I will be voting yes.

  6. I am a resident of southern Philipstown but not in Garrison school district. Our family uses the DFL all the time and I really appreciate being able to hold and attend community events in the wonderful library. We donate to the library. I hope that everyone who gets value from it will support it as you see fit.

  7. Seven days a week, from morning till dusk, for the very young and the young at heart, for students and business folk, for e-mail and e-readers, for book reports and resumes, for children and adults, for art lovers and writers, for gardeners and computer geeks, for lectures and exhibitions, for crafts and book sales, for quilting and 3-D printing, for I-Pads and wooden trains, for quiet times and celebrations, for homework and hobbies, for a cheerful greeting and for help finding the right book and information, for one reason or another, so many of us visit, use and enjoy the Desmond-Fish Library. With a little extra from us we will help it continue to thrive and provide our entire community with its invaluable resources for many years to come.

    I know I speak for many in this town when I say, the contribution we are about to vote on has the ability to preserve and strengthen a unique institution that enhances our community and enriches our and our children’s lives.

  8. Voting yes corrects a major error on the part of the Philipstown town board when they only considered the Butterfield getting Philipstown tax revenue, ignoring the Fish Library. We in Garrison subsidize the Butterfield and it is money well spent but it is not fair that Philipstown does not reciprocate, not fair at all. I project my tax will go up around $50-75 a year to help the Fish Library. Come on, the Desmond-Fish is the heart of Garrison and we agreed to fund the Butterfield. The Butterfield is the heart of Cold Spring and we voted yes, so keep us in mind, we helped keeping your library open and do the same.